Professional associations or groups that represent specific jobs or careers can be great resources, especially in the early stages of a career.
When you join and participate in conferences, meetings or other activities you can:
- meet potential funders/collaborators/new friends/colleagues/employers,
- raise your professional profile,
- learn about best practices, resources and the latest trends in your field,
- and more!
Now is a great time for you to join because many of these organizations have student or early career discounts, and, some employers will pay for memberships in groups directly related to your current responsibilities.
Tips for making the most of this type of resource:
- Join the LinkedIn/Twitter/Facebook group for your association as a way to easily keep tabs on what they and other members are doing. Some groups also have their own online networking systems that you can join.
- You may be surprised at how easy it is to have a leadership role in these associations or groups…yes, even students and folks early in their careers. For example, regularly attending committee meetings lets folks get to know you and see that you are dependable. Actually contributing to the meeting (with ideas or volunteering for leadership roles) will give you valuable experience and let folks see what you have to offer. One position leads to another and next thing we know, you are president of the entire association!
- Don’t just focus on groups that you think are directly in your area. Joining a variety of groups that reflect your professional interests broadens your network and allows you to contribute perspectives that might be new to that group. For example, I belong to the Association for Health Care Journalists. Attending their meetings allowed me to get to know them better, which helped to facilitate my research on what they do and gave me opportunities to work on different kinds of projects. Note that some groups may not allow folks who are not professionals in that field to have a full membership, ie, you may have to be an affiliate member. Still, it can’t hurt to explore the options. You might be able to join before they put restrictions in place, and once you are a member you can usually keep your membership (as long as you pay the dues).
- Here are some general categories of professional associations, with specifics in my field of public health:
- the general group in your field, e.g., American Public Health Association
- a regional or state version, e.g., North Carolina Public Health Association
- a discipline specific group, e.g., AcademyHealth (for health policy and health services research folks)
- methods/research specific groups, e.g,, American Association for Public Opinion Research
- topic specific groups, e.g., Obesity Society
- demographic-specific groups, e.g., National Council of La Raza
- Note that “professional association” is not just about groups of researchers or academics. You are looking for reputable organizations that bring together professionals who share your professional interests. For example: